Race in America: If you just ignore it, it will go away

In one day, we watch the scissors chop racial epithets from Mark Twain’s classic “Huckleberry Finn” 219 times, then we get to watch our new, dedicated collection of elected officials gloss over the more controversial sections of the US Constitution which denied rights to African-Americans.

Alan Gribben, a professor of literature in Montgomery, Alabama (big surprise), has developed his own version of Huckleberry Finn that is free of that particular racial epithet, ostensibly to keep Twain’s classic on school reading lists. Now, let’s just put aside from the absurdity of trying to shield young ears from the N word when it regularly appears in rap music and in daily exchanges of white and black alike. Most children will most likely hear sanitized uses of the N word, as passed from the god-children of Tupac rather than the true and disgusting uses of it from a cultural critic like Mark Twain.

The consequences of cutting out this important piece of Huck Finn are devastating. Spineless school administrators may seek to cut Huck Finn from reading lists due to sensitivities of parents, but the result is that children are denied an important opportunity to learn of the awful history of the term, and it’s connotations that humans can be bought and sold freely. Gribben, who resides in the heart of what was America’s apartheid, should be well aware of the importance of maintaining awareness of the United States’ very ugly history.

The new House of Representatives convened yesterday, and, caving to the batshit demands of the self appointed protectors of the founding fathers, the Tea Party, read the US Constitution aloud. However, our fine lawmakers saw it fit, to remove sections counting black persons as 3/5ths of a human for taxation purposes, and one Congressmen abstained from reading the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to all persons born within the borders of the United States and grants all residents of the United States equal protection under the law. Reportedly, Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia, abstained due to his opposition to “anchor babies,” or, in common parlance, the children of brown people.

The reading of Article 1 of the Constitution and recognizing the 14th Amendment should stand as a testament to whatever progress we have made since those miserable and embarrassing times. It is distressing that a publicly employed University professor, caving to demands of publicly employed school administrators, would choose to revise the very history they are supposed to be teaching. Gingrey clearly does not understand the incredible significance of the 14th Amendment, which validated many of the founding father’s dream of a state that provided equal rights to all. Gingrey, of course, would have been on the side of land-owning white people, who profited off of the ownership of human beings.

Sweeping our countries ugly race politics and history under the mat will not make it go away. Yes, we have made incredible strides toward a truly equal society in terms of African Americans, but have made conversations about race so taboo, that they are being replaced by equally ugly but more insidious forms of institutional bigotry such as what we’ve repeatedly seen in Arizona, and in conversations about denying rights and protection to Hispanics and non-citizens.

The average American feels perfectly comfortable using bigoted speech in terms of welfare recipients, undocumented workers and non-English speakers. What they need to hear, is that they are merely carrying on an age old tradition of bigotry and hate. Hatred is a cancer. Like cancer, ignoring it will not make it go away.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

2 responses to “Race in America: If you just ignore it, it will go away”

  1. whiteflour says :

    We should be banning the ignorant black hip hop culture and music that spawns gang-worship and irresonsibility. This is the biggest example of “white discrmination” ever seen and noone protests. How dare you remove words of the greatest american author in order to appease a destructive social group who add very little, if anything, to our society. The end truly is nigh.

  2. TeacherPatti says :

    I agree that banning (preferably a volunteer ban!) of gangsta rap would be awesome. Pete, you know where I teach school so you probably have figured out that I have a fair number of black students on my caseload. One of my kids was telling me all about her “niggas” and I sent her straight to see my parapro who is an older black man and who eschews use of that word. He gave her a talk about the word’s history and why it should not be used. Don’t know if it made a difference or not. ūüė¶

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